Militancy and Ethnic Politics in Northern Mali

For those of you who are interested, I’ve just published my first piece at Think Africa Press, on how militant groups in northern Mali use local ethnic politics to their advantage. Here’s an excerpt:

Yet it is not just the militias aiming to retake the north that have their eye on Mali’s ethnic fault lines. On November 24, the jihadist forum Ansar al-Mujahideen published a statement in Arabic by the ‘Majlis Shura al-Mujahidin in Gao’ following the outbreak of fighting in Gao between the MNLA and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), a splinter group of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). This fighting, which broke out on November 16 near Ansongo and Ménaka, appears to have ended in defeat for the MNLA in the movement’s last major stronghold. While both sides and third parties have given dramatically different tolls from the fighting, witnesses and town notables have indicated that MUJAO forces executed some of those involved in defending the town, including the president of the local cercle, Alwabégat Ag Salakatou.

In the forum statement, the ‘Majlis Shura al-Mujahidin’ – indicating the leadership council for MUJAO, whom Gao inhabitants generally refer to simply as “the mujahidin” – justified their combat against the MNLA, saying in an English translation posted several days later by the Ansar al-Mujahideen English Forum: “we [are] in our war with the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) this secular movement that doesn’t want the implementation of the Islamic Sharia…the mujahidin fought it because they became like the Tawagit [tyrants]”. It continued: “we call them to resort to the Sharia [law] of Allah but they refuse” and claimed the MNLA was oppressing Muslims “by taking their money unjustly and killing them and their dividing of the Muslims”.

 

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